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Saturday, 27 January, 2001, 00:16 GMT
Dave Pelzer: Dave who?
Best-selling author, Dave Pelzer
His book A Child Called It heads the list of best-selling UK non-fiction paperbacks. Its sequel, The Lost Boy, is third on the list of hardback best-sellers, while top of that list is the third and last in his autobiographical trilogy, A Man Named Dave. Who is he, asks Bob Chaundy of the BBC's news profiles unit.

The Dave in question is Dave Pelzer, and, it seems, hardly anyone who has not read these works has heard of him.

Dave Pelzer's phenomenal success is surprising, at first glance, because his books relate the harrowing story of a life marked by a sustained period of sordid physical abuse in his childhood in California in the 1970s.

Between the ages of four and twelve, Pelzer was beaten, stabbed, starved and subjected to all manner of torture and indecencies. The brutalities were exacted by his mother - but often with the passive complicity of his father and brothers.


Mother then ordered me to climb up on to the stove and lie on the flames so she could watch me burn.

Author Dave Pelzer

His mother, once a proud housewife, was transformed by alcoholism and mental instability into a hateful torturer. In the following extract from A Child Called It, Pelzer describes how, at the age of six, his mother, who refused to call him any other name but "It", forced him to strip and stand by the kitchen stove.

Dave Pelzer
He was singled out by his mother for brutality

"Gripping my arm, Mother held it in the orange blue flame. My skin seemed to explode from the heat... finally I fell to the floor on my hands and knees. Mother then ordered me to climb up on to the stove and lie on the flames so she could watch me burn."

Bewildered

It took eight years before teachers and social workers recognised what was going on. Child abuse laws were largely ineffective in 1970s America. No-one faced criminal proceedings and both Pelzer's parents are now dead.

The second book in the series, The Lost Boy, describes the period in which the bewildered child, haunted by the fear of being returned to his mother, is passed between foster homes. Desperate attempts to be accepted by his peers led him into a life of petty crime.

The last book in the trilogy, A Boy Named Dave, is about confronting his mother. She acknowledged her acts but distanced herself by telling him: "I couldn't help hitting It. It was always stealing food, Dave, so I had to hit It."

Schmaltzy

Dave Pelzer wrote A Child Called It as a cathartic exercise and published it himself. It was picked up later by a publishing house and received wide media coverage, with Oprah Winfrey, among others, recommending it for her influential Book Club.

Dave Pelzer's second book
His books have sold with little publicity
It was already a million-seller when it arrived on the desk of Orion UK Publishing's Trevor Dolby.

"I was intrigued by its success and read it in one sitting," he told BBC News Online. "The fact that you're told early on that Dave is rescued helps you get through it."

Trevor Dolby got rid of the flimsy paperback cover with the schmaltzy American design, gave it a hardback and watched amazed as it sold out several print runs despite next to no publicity other than a couple of daytime chat-shows by the author.

Memories

"It's a classic word-of-mouth seller," says Dolby. "It's not a Whitbread candidate or high art, in fact I'm convinced it's being bought by people who don't normally buy books. We get 10 letters a day from people saying the first book mirrors their own childhood, which is very depressing."

The implication that many former abuse sufferers are buying the book is borne out by Peter Saunders of the charity NAPAC, the National Association for People Abused in Childhood.

He says: "Survivors of abuse often bury their memories and it takes something like a book to them back. I founded this charity after reading a similar book."

Dave Pelzer left his foster care to join the United States Air Force. He made a success of it, being handpicked to refuel the top-secret Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft and the Stealth fighter.

Dave Pelzer appearing on Esther
His mission is to help others who have suffered the same fate
He has received personal commendations from Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton, and carried the coveted Centennial flame for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

His latest book, Help Yourself, is designed to encourage readers to eliminate emotional baggage from their past.

Dave Pelzer's life is now transformed. He lives happily with his second wife and their adored son. Dave Pelzer's mother was herself a victim of childhood abuse and, in his busy lecturing schedule, breaking the abuse cycle has become Dave Pelzer's mantra.

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Dave Pelzer interviewed on Esther, November 2000

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